How often does car AC need to be recharged? If the AC system is in good shape, every five years. Maybe two if you live in a very hot climate. So, if your mechanic’s been telling you to recharge the AC regularly, sorry to say, but you’ve been scammed.
There are times when an AC recharge will be necessary. Continue reading to learn more about why, and all the answers you need to the question “how often does car AC need to be recharged?”. Here’s our table of contents to help you find the information you need:
Car Air Conditioning
First, you’ll need to understand how the AC system works. Of course, you can skip this section if you already understand how the AC system in cars works. For those of you not in the know, here’s how it works:
- The heart of the system is the compressor. The engine’s drive belt powers the compressor and it will compress the refrigerant (the lifeblood of the system) turning it into a high-temperature and high-pressure gas.
- The gas then travels into the condenser which removes heat from the refrigerant and transforms it into a liquid state.
- Afterward, the liquid enters an expansion valve where it returns to its gaseous state and loses temperature even further.
- The refrigerant enters an accumulator to remove any remaining moisture.
- Finally, it enters the evaporator. A blower fan then blows air through the evaporator core, and the resulting air becomes cold thanks to the cold refrigerant.
If you’re more of a visual learner, watch the video above to understand more about how it works. The system repeats the process until you turn off the car’s AC.
Note that it’s the same regardless of the car, although EVs power the compressor with their batteries since there’s no engine or drive belt. And there are different types of refrigerants, but apart from that, the process is the same.
How Often Does Car AC Need To Be Recharged
So, how often does car AC need to be recharged? As mentioned, very rarely as long as the system is in good shape. You’ll notice that the car AC is a closed-loop system. Meaning that it endlessly recirculates the refrigerant, and doesn’t expel anything out.
This means that you don’t have to recharge it (for more context, check out our guide on how to evacuate car AC system), as the system isn’t supposed to lose refrigerant. It’s the same as your cooling system; it only recirculates and doesn’t need topping up. If you do, then there’s a leak somewhere.
Leakage happens when there’s a faulty or worn-out component. Common failures are usually a bad compressor, damaged condensers, and hose leaks.
If you have a leak, then you’ll need to repair or replace the component first, and then recharge the system. Recharging the system without repairing it first means the refrigerant will continue to leak. This results in you needing to recharge the refrigerant constantly and can cause further damage to the system.
However, note that experts recommend that you recharge your car’s refrigerant after five years. Refrigerants will degrade by then, so recharge is necessary (especially if know how to recharge AC and how to recharge AC in car). If you live in a very hot climate, it may be necessary to do it every two years. But you don’t need to do it any more regularly than that.
In a nutshell: you don’t often need to recharge your car’s AC. If you do, then there’s a leak somewhere that you need to fix. If your mechanic says you need to regularly charge it, then maybe it’s time to find a different and more honest AC shop.
Troubleshooting AC Problems
Now we know the answer to “How often does car AC need to be recharged?” you’re probably thinking “Wait, if my car’s AC doesn’t need recharging, then why isn’t it cold?” Well, this means either there’s a faulty component or there’s a leak in the system. And don’t worry, we’ll give you a guide on how to find it.
Note that this guide will be specific for a car AC that’s still blowing air but isn’t cold. If it isn’t blowing air at all, then it’s a blower motor issue. Meanwhile, if the heater isn’t working, the issue is either with the heater core or your car’s cooling system. Learn more about it here.
If you don’t have AC problems then you can skip this section (or you can learn how to fix car AC). But if you do, here’s how to troubleshoot your AC problems:
1. Inspect The Compressor
The first component that usually wears out is the compressor. Unlike the other components, the compressor has moving parts so it’s more likely to fail. Most compressors last between 7 to 10 years.
A healthy compressor should make a clicking noise when you turn the AC on. But afterward, it shouldn’t make any noise at all. If you hear a whining or growling noise when you turn on the AC, then you likely have a bad compressor. Note the whining noise may also be due to a loose drive belt.
Additionally, if the compressor clutch has failed, you might not hear any clicking noise when you turn on the AC. So, inspect the compressor for all of these, and see if it’s working normally.
A bad compressor costs between $800 to $1,200 to replace on average, including labor. Some cars may be cheaper, but in general, it will be quite an expensive replacement job. Learn more about diagnosing and replacement in our guide to AC compressors.
2. Check The Fuse
If the compressor isn’t engaging at all (i.e. it doesn’t make a clicking noise when you turn the AC on), the problem may lie with the fuse. If this is the case, you can simply replace the fuse and don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on the compressor. Here’s how to check:
- Locate the car’s fuse box. It’s usually a black plastic box in the engine bay, although some cars may have it in the cabin.
- Open the fuse box, and on the cover, there should be a diagram of the fuses. Find the fuse for the AC system. Consult with your service manual or ask in owner forums if you’re having difficulty finding it.
- Once you find it, hook up a test light to a grounding surface.
- Touch the back pins on the fuse. If the test light doesn’t light up, you have a blown fuse.
- Replace the fuse with appropriate amperage. Most fuses won’t cost more than $20.
Watch the video above to learn more. It’s a fairly simple process, although locating the fuse may be a bit difficult in some cars. If the test light doesn’t light up, there are more tests that you can do to confirm it’s the compressor.
We recommend doing these tests first before you spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a new compressor. Learn more in our guide to testing the compressor.
3. Inspect The Condenser
If the compressor is working fine, the next thing you should check is the condenser. The condenser is essentially a heat exchanger, so it looks like your car’s radiator but smaller. Some cars mount the condenser with the radiator, but others put mount it separately in the engine bay. Check your service manual to locate it.
After you locate the condenser, inspect it for signs of damage, rust, and buildup of dirt and debris. All of these things can cause the condenser to lose its effectiveness.
Common damage to the condenser is usually bent fins and/or damaged frames. The condenser has fins just like a radiator, and if it’s bent or damaged, then it ruins the condenser’s effectiveness in reducing heat from the refrigerant. As a result, your car’s AC won’t be as cold.
Several bent fins are fine, but if most of them are bent, then you’ll need to replace the condenser. And if the frames are ruined, well, it’s time for a change.
If it has rust or a buildup of dirt and debris, you may be able to get away by simply cleaning it. The process may be difficult as you may need to remove the front bumper, but ultimately it’s still cheaper than having to buy a new condenser. It costs between $500 to $800, by the way.
4. Find The Leak
If those components are fine, then the most likely problem is you have a leak somewhere in the system. The problem is that AC leaks are hard to detect, as refrigerants are colorless and odorless, and if it leaks in gas form, you can’t see them.
The first inspection that you can do is to touch the compressor and condenser. If they’re wet, and there are traces of oil, that’s where the leak is coming from. If not, you’ll need to use an AC recharge kit with a UV dye to find the leak (ensure that you also know how to charge AC system). Here’s how:
- Get an AC recharge kit with UV dye.
- Start the engine, and turn on the A/C system to full.
- Locate the A/C system’s low-pressure valve. The valve cover usually says ‘L’ or ‘Low’.
- Connect the kit to the valve and pull the trigger. The gauge should be in the red as you have a leak and the refrigerant should be low.
- Keep pulling the trigger. Turn the bottle from the 6 o’clock position to the 9 o’clock position repeatedly. You’ll need to do this until the gauge is in the green, usually about 10 minutes.
- Let the car and the AC run. You can drive about in it if you need to.
- Get the car into a dark space, then shine a UV light on all of the components to find the leak. You’ll see green spots if there’s a leak.
We recommend watching the video above from ChrisFix. Note that it may take up to a month before you can spot the leak. But major leaks will show up almost immediately.
5. What If There’s No Leak?
If you can’t find any leaks in the system, then by the process of elimination, you probably have a bad evaporator. Evaporators don’t have moving parts, so they last quite long. That being said, you will usually need to replace it between 10 to 15 years. And replacing it costs between $900 and $1,200 on average.
As for the repairs, we also recommend that you have a professional do it for you. While you can save around $300 if you do it yourself, replacing the evaporator is a lengthy and labor-intensive process.
Hopefully, the troubleshooting guide above is helpful for you. And if you want to learn more about AC recharge, in addition to how often does car AC need to be recharged, here’s all you need to know:
AC Recharge Cost
Most shops will charge between $150 to $300 on average. The process is largely the same, but some cars may be more difficult to do than others. Additionally, some cars may require more refrigerant than others.
The important thing is to shop around for the best quote possible. And make sure to read reviews and recommendations to make sure you find a good car AC shop that’s honest. You can learn more about costs in our AC recharge cost guide.
AC Recharge Kit
We think it’s better to have a professional do it for you and pay for the costs. But if you’re on a budget, and you don’t mind doing the job yourself, then you can use an AC recharge kit to refill the refrigerant in your car’s AC.
- Check your car’s manual and make sure to buy the correct type of refrigerant recharge kit. The most common one is usually R134a.
- Locate the car’s low-pressure service port. Follow the lines running from the AC compressor, and locate the cap that says ‘Low’ or ‘L’ on it.
- Determine the ambient temperature using a thermometer. Then adjust the gauge on the recharge kit as necessary. This will let you know how much pressure you should fill the system to.
- Turn on the car, and turn on the AC to full blast.
- Wear gloves and safety goggles. Shake the can, and attach the recharge kit to the service port.
- Pull the trigger, and keep filling the system until the pressure gauge reaches the range necessary. This depends on the ambient temperature, but usually, it’s around 40 PSI.
- Once done, reinstall the cap of the service port. And you should be good to go.
There are some debates on whether or not an AC recharge kit is safe to use in the long run. But based on many reviews, it’s generally safe to use and won’t result in long-term damage if you do it properly.
You can also recharge it more properly by using manifold gauges, an air compressor, and some refrigerant cans. But we think this will end up being more costly than going to a professional, so it’s not worth it.
FAQs On How Often Does Car AC Need To Be Recharged
Got any more questions about how often does car AC need to be recharged and the car AC system in general? Here are some answers that might be helpful:
How To Recharge Car AC
The easiest way would be to use a recharge kit you can buy for about $50. You can do it more properly with an air compressor and a manifold gauge, but this usually ends up being more expensive than going to a professional. Meanwhile, the recharge kits come with a gauge, which you attach to the low-pressure service port while the engine is running and the AC is on full blast. You’ll need to determine the ambient temperature and adjust the gauge accordingly to reach the necessary pressure. Then pull the trigger until the gauge is in the green. Note that we still recommend going to a professional instead.
How Much To Recharge Car AC
A professional car AC recharge will cost between $150 to $300 on average. The exact cost will depend on your car’s make and model.
How To Evacuate Car AC System
To do this properly, you need manifold gauges, a recovery tank, a vacuum pump, and an AC recovery machine. Connect the blue hose to the low-pressure port, and the red one to the high-pressure port. Then connect the yellow hose to the recovery machine’s inlet port. And then connect the outlet port to the recovery tank. Open the blue valve, and turn on the outlet port. The gauges will read zero after about 30 minutes. This is quite a complex process and potentially dangerous, so if you’re not sure, best to have a professional do it for you.
How To Check Freon Levels In Car
You’ll turn on the car and turn on the AC to full blast. Then locate the low-pressure service port, and then attach a recharge kit to the service port. The kit will take a reading of the freon level, and if it’s in the green, then your car has enough freon.
How To Make AC Colder In Car
There isn’t any modification you can do to make your AC colder. The best you can do is maintain the system, clean the condenser, and service as necessary. We do have a small tip: turn off the air recirculation feature when you first turn the AC on and turn it on after about 10 minutes. This helps the AC to get cold quicker, especially if the car has been sitting under the sun.
How Much Is It To Fix AC In Car
It depends on what’s gone wrong within the AC system. Hose or lines leaks are typically between $200 to $600 depending on how many hoses you need to replace. Replacing the condenser also costs about the same in most cars. Meanwhile, the compressor and evaporator are much more expensive. They typically cost between $800 to $1,200 in most cars.
How Long Does Freon Last In A Car
As long as there are no leaks, freons can last for up to five years, and after that, it will degrade and your AC won’t be as cold. If you live in a very hot climate, recharging every two years may be necessary. You won’t need to recharge any more often than that as long as there are no leaks.
How To Tell If Freon Is Low In AC Car
The first sign your car is low on freon is that the AC isn’t blowing cold air, or not as cold as it usually does. If your AC is still cold when driving, then this may either be a compressor issue or the outside temperature is just too hot. You can check by using a manifold gauge, and attaching the blue one to the low service port. The gauge will give you a reading on the freon level.
Is It Necessary To Service AC Every Year
Generally speaking no. The only thing you need to change is the cabin air filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. And cleaning the condenser every six months is a good idea, but isn’t necessary and you can do it yourself. The car AC system is generally very reliable and doesn’t need regular servicing. Check every two years, or when you’re having AC problems.
How Often Does Car AC Need To Be Recharged: In Conclusion…
So, now you know the answer to the question “how often does car AC need to be recharged?” which isn’t very often. To summarize, a good AC system only needs a recharge every five years, since this is around the time that refrigerant would degrade.
If you live in a very hot climate, it may be necessary to recharge it every two years. But as long as the AC system’s in good shape, you won’t need to do it any more often than that. If you or someone you know has been recharging much more regularly, then chances are either there’s a leak, or you’re being scammed.
If you do need a recharge, then we recommend having a professional do it for you. AC recharge kits are great and easy, but to ensure maximum coldness and maintain the system, it’s best to go to a trusted car AC shop.
Finally, some quick maintenance tips: clean the condenser every once in a while, run the AC at least once a week for 10 minutes to ensure the compressor is working well, and replace worn-out parts as necessary. Hopefully, our tips and guides here will have helped you in staying cool.